During the men’s Bible study on Sunday, we discussed revival. We talked about a lot of things, and the subject of alter calls came up. Many of us come from a faith tradition that made liberal use of alter calls in presenting the gospel. Well, on Monday morning, I was catching up on some blogs I follow and came across a great post by a guy writing as “The Seeking Disciple”. He writes on a blog that is called “Arminian Today”, but his post has nothing to do with the debate over divine election. You can find his original post here, and I have reproduced it below. I think it is a very interesting discussion and wanted to share it with you all.
“He Said The Prayer, That’s Enough”
I remember once attending a Baptist church with a buddy of mine. At the end of the meeting, the Baptist preacher gave a typical, “bow your head and close your eyes” type of altar call in which he asked people to “accept Christ into your heart today, before it’s too late.” A young teenager “came forward to receive Christ.” The preacher spoke to the lad, prayed with him, and then announced that the teenager was saved and was a candidate for baptism to which they had a quick congregational vote on the matter and a man raised his hand to second the pastor’s vote for the teen’s baptism. They then asked us to come up and shake hands with the teenager and welcome him into the family of God.
When I got to the teen, I could tell that he really had no clue what was going on. So I quickly said to him, “Do you understand what it means to repent of your sins?” To which he said no. I was just starting to explain to him what it means to repent when a woman pushed me out of the way and said loudly, “He said the prayer, that’s enough now move on.”
The teenager never came back again.
“The prayer.” That is how many see salvation. Just say this prayer and you are in. Repeat these magic words and you’re in the kingdom of God. Despite not one example of anyone “praying to receive Christ” in the New Testament and despite not one example from the ministry of Jesus where He instructed His disciples to do this, the modern evangelical church seems fixed on practicing this unbiblical practice. One large church in Charlotte, NC likes to boast about how many “prayed to receive Christ” and they boast that thousands upon thousands have asked Jesus into their hearts for the first time through this church. Yet not one New Testament passage is offered for such a practice.
Furthermore, compare the ministries of the great saints of God in Church History. John Knox. William Tyndale. William Carey. John Calvin. James Arminius. John Wesley. George Whitefield. Peter Cartwright. Charles Spurgeon. Jonathan Edwards. Not one of these men of God used the “sinner’s prayer” or exhorted sinners to pray to receive Christ. They certainly used John 1:12-13 and called sinners to look to Christ alone to be saved but none of them had modern altar calls. The modern altar call does not even appear until the late 1800′s and was especially used by men such as D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and of course, Billy Graham. Charles Finney seems to be the first to introduce what he called, “the anxious bench” where seekers could come and hear more about how to be saved. From here came the modern practice of “coming down front to receive Christ.” Spurgeon would call his hearers to receive Christ but he would exhort them to go to a prayer room where a waiting Christian would instruct them on what it means to truly be saved. This is also the practice of John MacArthur today.
I believe the modern altar call has produced countless false converts. Since sin is rarely preached against or at least is not even biblically defined (1 John 3:4), many also don’t understand what it means to be saved in the first place. Saved from what? Saved from whom? Why must we repent of our sins? Why does God require repentance? The modern church seems to have forgotten also that salvation is a work of God (1 Peter 1:3). Regeneration is not a work of the flesh that comes from praying a prayer or saying words or raising a hand. Regeneration is a divine work of God (John 3:3; Titus 3:5-7). We cannot save ourselves. We must cast ourselves completely upon the Lord Jesus to deliver us from God’s just wrath (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). To be honest, too often gospel messages spend too much time focused on our sin instead of the holiness and justice of God. It is God whom we should fear and it is His laws that we have violated (Luke 12:4-5). We should be preaching the justice of God in regard to sinning (Hebrews 10:31).
I do praise God that more and more are realizing after studying both the Word of God and Church History that the sinner’s prayer is not a biblical nor historical practice. It is not based on the clear examples of the New Testament nor upon the examples of great church leaders. We find nothing in the early Church Fathers to suggest that they used a practice of altar calls. The Church has preached salvation through Christ for 2000 years and this must be our message again if we are to see the lost saved (Romans 1:16-17). Salvation does not come by the tools of the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) but the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Let us trust again in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and save the lost (John 16:8-11).